Unpopular in Virginia, Pelosi Becoming a Campaign Target
By Paul Kane
Heading into his first re-election battle, Rep. Tom Periello (D-Va.) may spend most of next year answering questions about Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), not President Obama.
The House speaker is deeply unpopular in Virginia, particularly in areas outside the Beltway media market -- and Republicans intend to make hay with that fact. Just 38 percent of Virginia voters approve of her performance as speaker, according to a Washington Post poll of Virginia voters conducted last week, while 58 percent disapprove of the liberal icon's handling of her job.
Pelosi's 38 percent approval rating is about average for congressional leaders nationwide, who have never been very popular figures; it matches the 38 percent of Americans who approved of her performance in a national Post/ABC News poll in mid-June. The troubling news for Democrats is how much more unpopular Pelosi is in the Old Dominion. That 58 percent disapproval rating was 13 percentage points higher than the national average in June.
Ever since Pelosi became House speaker, Republicans have tried to turn her into a divisive figure -- and one from whom Democrats in swing districts would need to distance themselves. Among GOP strategists, it's a commonly held belief that that effort failed miserably in 2008, as Pelosi stumped for candidates and raised cash in every corner of the nation. Nationally, Pelosi has never been as politically toxic as Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was during his speakership in the mid-1990s. Gingrich regularly had disapproval ratings hovering around 60 percent. Efforts to tie a pair of southern Democrats to Pelosi in special elections in 2008 failed, as both candidates won.
But this year, particularly after intense media scrutiny of Pelosi's accusation that the CIA lied to her in 2002 about interrogations of terrorists, the GOP is doubling down on its effort to use her image to frighten conservative voters. Its congressional campaign arm devotes large chunks of its Web site entirely to Pelosi -- not Obama -- and a fund-raising missive sent last week was simply headlined: "Fire Nancy Pelosi."
The Post poll results for Pelosi came from likely voters in next month's Virginia gubernatorial race. Given the intensity of GOP voter interest in reclaiming the governor's mansion, Pelosi's approval-disapproval among all registered voters is likely somewhat better than this 38-58 statewide finding. But The Post poll also found other troubling trends for the speaker. Virginia independents, always a critical bloc, have strongly turned against Pelosi, with 66 percent disapproving of her speakership. Independent men, in particular, dislike the historic first female speaker: Just 24 percent approve, while 74 percent disapprove, of her.
Democrats in rural, conservative-leaning regions -- areas of the country where House Democrats have picked up dozens of seats the last two election cycles -- appear the most vulnerable to efforts to portray them as Pelosi clones, much as moderate Republicans were to Democratic moves to link them to Gingrich. Among voters outside of Northern Virginia, Pelosi receives the backing of 37 percent of likely voters in next month's gubernatorial election, while 59 percent disapprove of her job performance. These are the regions where Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), in the southeastern corner of the state, and Periello, in the central southern district, will be appealing to voters for the first time as incumbents.
In Virginia's suburbs outside the capital, Pelosi wins support from 42 percent of the voters, better than her national average a few months ago, while 55 percent disapprove.
Obama is not as ripe a target for House GOP strategists in Virginia. Despite a rough political patch in the late summer, Obama's approval rating stood in Virginia, at 53-46, among likely voters. Among all registered voters, Obama was looked upon favorably by 58 percent and just 39 percent disapprove.
If these trend lines hold up for the next year, Nye, Periello and dozens of other rural, southern Democrats should expect a steady diet of GOP-led ads linking them to the unpopular House speaker, not Obama.
Web Politics Editor
October 13, 2009; 8:26 AM ET
Categories: Dem. Leaders
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